Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 10th March 2016 by Sceptre Books
Format: Hardcover copy sent to me for review by Sceptre Publishing via Bookbridgr
In his mesmerising first novel, the internationally celebrated short-story writer Miroslav Penkov spins the intriguing tale of an American student who returns to Bulgaria, the country he left as a child. His mission is to track down his grandfather and to find out why he suddenly cut off all contact with the family three years before.
The trail leads him to a remote village on the border with Turkey, a stone’s throw away from Greece, high up in the Strandja Mountains – a place of pagan mysteries and black storks nesting in giant oaks; a place where every spring, possessed by Christian saints, men and women dance barefoot across live coals in search of rebirth. Here in the mountains, he is drawn by his grandfather into a maze of half-truths. And here, he falls in love with an unobtainable Muslim girl. Old ghosts come back to life and forgotten conflicts blaze anew, until the past finally yields up its plangent secrets.
This book was enchanting; the characters, the plot, the writing, everything. Miroslav Penkov knows how to make a story magical. Being a sucker for folklore and mythology, I couldn’t resist requesting this, and was so grateful to receive it.
I absolutely loved the storyline, it was so full of magic and mystery. The characters all had such unique plots and they were woven together perfectly. The stories of the Nestinari and Captin Kosta just added another layer of intrigue to it, as they linked to the main narration, yet it was subtly done. The plot is so intricate and detailed, and I admit that I did have to put it down for a while because of this (it was the lead-up to exams so I was focused on revision). I’m so glad that I did so, as I then read it when I had more time and energy to dedicate to following the story and enjoyed it so much more. I did still find myself getting a little bit lost from time to time due to the multiple layers, but it was so interesting, I just couldn’t put it down.
Leading on from that, every character was unique and had their own secrets. There were none of the standard, generic characters that are found sometimes in books. I could picture them all, with their quirks, their own style, and their manner of speech. The character-building and the exploration of familial relationships throughout the novel were excellent and definitely stood out to me. Complexities were unveiled with every chapter and it made it such a fascinating read.
I wouldn’t describe this novel as fast-paced, though a lot does happen. It takes you through everything slowly, so you can take it all in. It’s definitely one of those books that suits a slower pace and I certainly was engrossed in the story. One thing I would say though is to only pick this up when you are certain you can dedicate yourself to it, so you can enjoy it fully; it’s worth taking the time.
The writing was absolutely beautiful, which added to the ethereal atmosphere of the novel. I think that’s one reason I loved it so much; everything about it fitted together perfectly and beautifully. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who seeks something a little different, with multiple layers to dive into. Honestly, I loved this book (books set in different countries always seem to be my favourites), and urge everyone to read it, as it explores culture, history, and family in a wonderfully unique way.
Rating: 5 / 5 stars.